Keeping North Carolina Safe: Understanding the Causes of Truck Accidents

The worst fear of most drivers and passengers is the terrible odds they face if involved in a truck accident. While most of us become accustomed to traveling shoulder to shoulder at highway speeds with huge semis on crowded freeways, every driver should pause to consider the massive difference between semis and other vehicles on the road.

Understanding the most common causes of truck accidents is one way to prepare for that next commute or distant vacation. By avoiding certain situations and honing defensive driving skills, motorists can reduce the chance that they will be involved in a crash with an eighteen wheeler. Avoiding the overwhelming vehicle damage caused when a tractor-trailer carrying heavy freight strikes a passenger vehicle is one key to reducing the odds of suffering a severe personal injury or wrongful death.

Federal Traffic Safety Data on Large Truck Crash Causation

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) constantly analyzes truck safety data to reduce both the frequency and the severity of semi crashes and other commercial motor vehicle accidents. This knowledge can be used to guide future rulemaking proceedings regarding vehicle inspections, compliance reviews, enforcement measures, effective commercial drivers license (CDL) testing and appropriate sanctions for violators.

One prominent 2006 study undertaken by the FMCSA in league with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) studied 963 large truck crashes from across the U.S. over a two-year period, compiling more than 1,000 individual facts about the vehicles, drivers and environmental factors involved in each truck accident. For purposes of the study, "large trucks" meant not just semis, but also other vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) in excess of 10,000 pounds.

The Large Truck Crash Causation Study had two primary purposes: to investigate specific factors that could have prevented each crash, and to assess the frequency of those factors and their overall relationship to the risk of a serious or fatal truck crash. The highway safety experts who authored the study identified the top ten factors among the hundreds of reasons why truck accidents occur:

  • Braking problems that affect the ability of a vehicle to quickly slow down and stop
  • Interruptions to traffic flow due to congestion or a previous crash
  • Use of prescription drugs by drivers
  • Driving at an excessive speed under given conditions
  • Lack of familiarity with the roadway where the truck accident occurred
  • Dangerous roadways due to construction debris inadequate signage or other problems
  • Stopping requirements such as stoplights and crosswalks
  • Over-the-counter drug use by drivers
  • Inadequate surveillance of the road ahead
  • Truck driver fatigue due to excessive hours behind the wheel

While the study represents a statistically representative sample of truck accidents from North Carolina and nationwide, the hard reality is that more than 120,000 such crashes occurred during the two-year study period. When those accidents are caused by truck driver errors or trucking company negligence, the resulting harm is often a matter for truck accident litigation.

Holding Trucking Companies and Truck Drivers Accountable for Negligence

The high danger of commercial truck accidents is due largely to the difference in weight between freight-carrying vehicles and cars, pickup trucks or vans that primarily carry passengers. A fully loaded and fueled tractor trailer has a mass that can be twenty times greater than other vehicles on the road, and the resulting damage from those collisions all too often includes traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and other catastrophic harm.

For that reason, trucking companies are held to strict standards. Truck accident lawsuits are generally more complex than car accident cases because a client's personal injury lawyer must examine a wider range of potential negligence. Trucking companies can be held accountable for negligent hiring practices that put unqualified or undependable drivers behind the wheel, as well as substandard maintenance practices, unbalanced loads and encouraging drivers to drive longer than the law permits.

Sometimes the harm to occupants of smaller passenger vehicles results from the driver's own negligence, including speeding, intoxication, tailgating, distracted driving or driving despite bad weather. Regardless of the cause or causes behind the injuries suffered by drivers and passengers, the trucking company and its insurance carrier are usually the primary source of compensation for the medical expenses, lost income and other damages that a plaintiff must seek.

A few inches can mean the difference between a close shave on the highway and a serious or fatal truck wreck that devastates lives. Truck accident injury victims and wrongful death survivors should understand that an experienced motor vehicle wreck attorney can make a similar difference between meaningful justice and a lost opportunity to make things right. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a truck accident, you should speak with a North Carolina truck accident attorney to review your options.